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Records of Bush Aides Sought

The prosecutor looking into the leak of a CIA agent's name wants Air Force One phone logs.

March 06, 2004|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A special prosecutor is seeking phone records from Air Force One as part of an investigation into whether the Bush administration illegally unmasked a covert CIA operative, the White House acknowledged Friday.

A spokesman said the administration was complying with grand jury subpoenas seeking the phone records and other documents, ranging from the records of a little-known White House working group on Iraq to the guest list at a White House birthday party for former President Gerald R. Ford.

The subpoenas -- three in all, first reported Friday by Newsday -- were issued to the White House in late January. They required the White House to produce the documents in stages, and all of them no later than Feb. 6. But officials said the process of turning over the information was not yet complete.

"We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information, and we're continuing to provide them with additional information," Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters in Crawford, Texas, where President Bush was spending the weekend.

The issuance of the subpoenas followed by three weeks the appointment of U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald of Chicago to investigate whether laws were broken when the name of then-CIA operative Valerie Plame showed up in a newspaper column last summer.

Plame is the wife of former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was commissioned to travel to Africa in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to purchase raw uranium ore to develop nuclear weapons.

Wilson wrote an opinion article in the New York Times on July 6, 2003, casting doubt on the suspected deal, which had been used by the Bush administration last year in making its case for war in Iraq.

Eight days after that article, Plame was identified as a CIA undercover officer by syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Investigators are attempting to learn who leaked the information to Novak and possibly other journalists.

Wilson is writing a book about the affair, "The Politics of Truth," to be published in May; his publicists say it will name the person Wilson believes outed his wife.

Federal law prohibits officials with security clearances from knowingly disclosing the identity of an undercover agent. But probes of leaks to the media have been hobbled in the past because journalists have been unwilling to disclose their sources.

Some lawyers close to the case say they believe that Fitzgerald may be gearing up to subpoena journalists before the grand jury. Justice Department policy requires that investigators exhaust all other potential sources of information before they seek to compel the testimony of journalists.

McClellan and several other White House aides already have testified before the grand jury. McClellan said Friday that he was not aware that anyone had asserted the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination before the grand jury.

The subpoenas request information about conversations and records that occurred within days and weeks of the Novak column. They cover Air Force One telephone call records from July 7 to July 12, while Bush was traveling in Africa, and a transcript of a July 12 press briefing given by then-White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The same subpoena requests a list of attendees at a July 16 White House birthday reception for Ford.

The investigators also have asked for records of the White House Iraq Group, which was created to publicize the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Its participants reportedly have included such senior White House figures as political advisor Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

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